Sunday 1 October 2017

Interview with Claire-Renee Kohner

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Claire-Renee Kohner, an American transgender journalist, activist, blogger, transgender journalist, activist, and mom of 3 boys. She reports on the positive aspects of the transgender community and reports on everyday issues as well as trans and queer actresses, directors, musicians, and the entertainment industry. Hello Claire-Renee!
Claire-Renee: Hi Monika! Thank you so much for taking some time out of your day to interview me, I really appreciate what you do.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Claire-Renee: As you mentioned, I’m a transgender journalist, activist, and mother of three boys; I have over 100 published articles on venues like the Advocate, Bustle, PlanetTransgender, GayEssentials, Original Plumbing, Claire Channel and I’ve appeared on HuffPo Live, The Queer Radio Network, and MyTalk107.1 to discuss dating while transgender and current transgender issues.
Claire Channel Media, an outlet that includes two online papers and a pending YouTube Channel, has been two years in the making and is currently on a hiatus while we work on funding. CCM looks to feature all of my past articles as an archive as well as feature accessible outlets for new queer and trans writers.
PlanetClaire is an online aggregate news site that features news and articles from around the world about people who are transgender.
Monika: I saw your short story in The New York Times series titled “Transgender Today.” Why did you decide to come out to the general public?
Claire-Renee: I first came out publicly about a year before that at a Minneapolis City Council meeting when they were discussing a city ordinance to make single-stall restrooms gender-free. Six months after that I came out on national TV when I testified in support of the Minnesota State High School League’s Transgender Sports Policy; after that, I started doing interviews and media appearances about being transgender when my short story was published in the NYT series.

One of Claire's media portals.

Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Claire-Renee: This is such a difficult question and probably the reason it took me so long to get back to you. I knew at the age of 6 that something was different but it wasn’t until I was about ten years old when I was “supposed to be born a girl” as I told my mom. That did not go over well. I reiterated to her at about 13 and again, that went nowhere fast. 
During most of high school, I was shopping and wearing clothes from Deb, Maurices, and the other women’s clothing stores that were available in my small town [Winona]. Needless to say, I was the school’s punching bag for dressing the way I did, but New Wave music was in and I thought, “Hey! If Duran Duran can dress like this and wear makeup, why can’t I?” So I did.
I never “secretly” dressed in anything because I always just dressed the way I wanted with no regrets. Depression was a huge issue that I dealt with – and still do as a result of my gender identity – suicide was always at the forefront of my mind.
About 4 years ago in April of 2013, I was in a horrible car accident which threw me into a greater depression; Knowing that I was running out of options when it came to my depression and dysphoria, in June of 2013 I tried to hang myself…unfortunately [or fortunately] the cross beam from the setup broke and I face planted on the concrete floor. 
Within a month, I was seeing a gender therapist behind my wife’s back trying to decide what my options were. I had seen a therapist in the early ’90s but back then, without HiPPA, I was involuntarily put into conversion therapy. Having such a bad experience kept me away from therapists for more than a decade.
In January of 2014, I finally came out to my wife and family as transgender and the decision was made to transition. Although it’s the best decision I’ve ever made, it has been both a difficult road and a satisfying lifesaving decision.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Claire-Renee: Living in a small town keeps you very isolated from what is going on in the bigger world so I always thought that I was alone in what I felt and what I was going through. One day, my father was watching tennis and pointed to Renee Richards. He said, "Hey [Dead name], see that girl right there?" pointing at the TV, "she used to be a guy." I was blown away because I couldn’t believe that there was someone else who could be like me. Research back then was limited to going to the library and searching for newspaper articles, so I read about what she was doing and it allowed me to put a label and face to what I was going through.

"No Way Renee: The Second Half of
My Notorious Life" via Amazon.

I do realize that Ms. Richards has made some polarizing comments in the last few years about transitioning and her legacy, but she remains an important influence on my younger self in realizing that we have existed well before the sudden visibility we are seeing today.
Monika: Are there are any transgender ladies that you admire and respect now?
Claire-Renee: I respect and admire all of my queer brothers, sisters, and in-betweeners because oddly it takes an amazing amount of pressure to conform to society's binary standards that when marginalized folks like us decide to live the way we need to in order to survive, society backhands you with high murder and/or suicide rate that it can be intimidating to color outside the lines of cis-het normative culture.
Specifically, I do admire Janet Mock; her book Redefining Realness was the first time any of us could read a biography by a trans woman and immediately identify with her experiences. The book made me feel less alone and allowed me to believe that there are people like me out there and that I could move forward with transitioning.
Jen Richards’ is also at the top of my list of people that I admire (and would love to date…but that’s between you, me, and the millions reading this). Her series ‘Her Story’ is the first time that there has been an accurate portrayal of the trans community and our struggles with everyday life living ‘authentically’ (I hate that term, but it fits).
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Claire-Renee: Unfortunately, my coming out was not under my control. I had made plans for a big announcement sometime during the summer of 2014 when I was ‘outed’ on Facebook, which meant I had to focus on damage control for family members that follow me on social media. I immediately shut down my accounts and FedExed a letter to my parents explaining that I was transgender, what it meant to me, and how hard life was since I was about six.
My parents called me a few days later and were speechless; they came up to visit me a few days after that call and then I basically never heard from them again…that was three and a half years ago. So yes, my parents were collateral damage to my coming out.
My wife and I are trying our best to reconcile after 19 years of marriage. My transition was obviously difficult on her and strangely, she’s not the one that considered leaving, it was me who decided to walk; we are currently in an open relationship and going to couples therapy.
As far as friends are concerned, I gained so many more plus a chosen family that I adore, I have three kids that live with me and as you know, not all marriages survive a transition, but we are always working towards a happy medium. Honestly, I think I paid the lowest price possible for coming out transgender because there was no loss of my job, kids, social position, or even neighborhood standing. I’m a lucky trans girl.

Being sad.

Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. As Laverne Cox announced, “Trans is beautiful.” Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with an interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Claire-Renee: I’m not sure it’s thriving as much as it’s finally being put under a spotlight or finally given some visibility. We’ve always been around, it’s just that we’ve had to hide in the closet or face being persecuted or driven into conversion therapy. I think it’s awesome that we are getting to a point in society where we can come out into the open and get the support we need.
I refer to the media attention as Trans-Pop; it seems everyone from MTV to the Discovery Channel is racing to air some sort of programming centered on a trans person. Shows seem to indiscriminately throw a trans person in for ratings and there seems to be this media gold rush to find a trans person to stick in their film. We are not a fad or a marketing gimmick, so as soon as a trans person can play the role of a cisgender person, that’s when we know we’ve made it.
To answer your question, yes, we are just scratching the surface but it’s going to still take quite a few years before the cisgender population sees us as anything but outside the norm. Trans is normal, society needs to get used to that.
Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Claire-Renee: Republicans will always feel the need to put their hands and patriarchy where it doesn’t belong. They claim to be about small government, but they want to decide who uses what bathroom, who can have a baby, who has access to birth control, how women dress in congress, and what is or is not considered rape…seems like big government to me.
The restroom war is being waged by the Christian right and national LGBT hate groups like The Family Research Council and The American Family Association. Locally we have Child Protection League Action that has lobbied against a transgender toolkit issued by the Minnesota Department of Education and opposes the anti-bullying bill passed a few years back. These are organizations that, although have the word ‘Family’ or Child Protection’ in them, actually advocate the discrimination and bullying of LGBTQ youth in public schools. 
Who should be afraid of whom in the bathroom? There have been more state and federal legislators, as well as priests, arrested in public restrooms than trans people. When will we see legislation keeping Republicans and Christians out of the restrooms?
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Claire-Renee: No, I’m a big proponent of ‘drop the T and let us be.’ We as people who are transgender have a series of unique issues facing us that the rest of the alphabet soup does not have. Housing, unemployment, a high suicide attempt rate, health care, access to safe spaces, and even the LG community throwing us under the bus or using us as bargaining chips to get what they need put in place has put the trans community twenty years behind the LG community.

Being happy.

The greater part of the LGBTQ+ community is based on sexual orientation while our needs are stemmed from biology and misalignment of gender and sex. I believe we need to organize as a community and break off from the rest of the alphabet so we can move forward without the baggage and stigma the LG community has placed on our backs.


All the photos: courtesy of Claire-Renee Kohner.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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